Master's Degree in Public Policy: Program Overview

Public policy is the study of how public servants analyze societies, political systems and economics in order to achieve policy changes via advocacy. Graduate students interested in this field may earn a Master of Public Policy (MPP) or Master of Arts (MA) in Public Policy.

Essential Information

Students in MA and MPP programs often have the option to concentrate in areas such as international trade and finance, government policy, or social and urban policy. These programs typically require students to complete a capstone or research project and take about two years to complete. Both programs are available online.

Applicants to both types of programs are required to have a bachelor's degree and usually a background in mathematics and economics. Some MPP programs may also require relevant work experience.

Master's Degree Programs in Public Policy

The MPP is a professional degree that takes two years; the MA is a nonprofessional degree that takes one year. In some cases, MPP programs may be integrated with Juris Doctor (J.D.) programs for students interested in law's relationship with public policy. MPP and MA programs both generally focus on topics in economics, ethics, political science, sociology and leadership, with the goal of training students to work at all levels of government and/or policy making.

More specific focus areas may include financial management, U.S. law and justice, political institutions, microeconomics and local policy processes. Concentration options may allow students to focus particularly on international trade, democratic institutions or education policy. All programs integrate basic training in statistics, quantitative analysis and research methods. Many programs let students interact with professionals in the field, either through collaborative work or through the process of composing of an extensive policy paper.

MPP curricula combine analytical training in mathematics and economics with theoretical topics about the relationships between political systems and societies. MA curricula generally focus on a narrower selection of topics. Common topics include:

  • Environmental policy
  • Microeconomic analysis
  • Policy-making processes
  • Political economy
  • Social policy
  • Social psychology

Popular Career Options

Students with a master's degree in this field may pursue careers in the public and private sectors, or work for nonprofit organizations. Possible titles include:

  • Environmental program director
  • Health agency manager
  • Issue advocate
  • Policy analyst

Continuing Education Info

After obtaining a master's degree, students may choose to pursue the terminal Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Policy. Doctoral programs prepare students for careers in public policy research. Students who have obtained a JD may pursue advanced law degrees, such as the Master of Laws (LLM), programs which may offer coursework related to public policy.

Master's programs in public policy provide students with the tools needed to serve as analysts, managers and advocates in various public policy areas. Students interested in these areas can apply to either a Master of Public Policy or Master of Arts in Public Policy degree program, both of which are research-oriented and allow students to choose concentrations that meet their needs.

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